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Impact of climate change on healthcare in India

It’s 20:30 in Delhi. Thirty-six-year-old Janke has just come home from housekeeping work at a local home. Lights up an egg tray to repel mosquitoes.

“Burning an egg tray or dried cow dung is the best way to repel dengue mosquitoes,” she says. “I can’t stand mosquito repellent creams and it seems that dengue mosquitoes are increasing year by year.”

In another part of India, Paras is trying to clear the flood waters from his house.

“It rains more in Mumbai than in other states, but it hasn’t resulted in floods every year. Now it does. We boil water three times a day because water-borne diseases are on the rise.”

“It rains more in Mumbai than in other states, but it hasn’t resulted in floods every year. Now it happens. We boil water three times a day because water-borne diseases are on the rise,” he says.

Dr. Kritika Sharma of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) monitors such situations across the country. “In both of the above situations, we observe the negative impact of climate change on the environment and its subsequent effects on human health,” she says.

“Due to pollution, changes in land use, and climatic factors, Delhi is experiencing a hotter climate year after year, which leads to untimely higher temperatures and precipitation. These factors promote mosquito breeding and increase dengue transmission. Mumbai, on the other hand hand , are at risk from coastal flooding and other anthropogenic climate change factors.

“Climate change is creating a favorable environment for the creation and transmission of many infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea, etc.,” she continues. “For example, when flood waters are contaminated with human or animal waste, waterborne diseases like diarrhea and cholera start spreading faster. Similarly, we have seen an increase in respiratory diseases due to air pollution in Delhi.”

Dr. RK Bisht, Physicist from AIIMS adds, “Air, water and food are the basic necessities of life. But they are also carriers of bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases. Negative effects of climate change such as floods, droughts, excessive heat, etc., upset the balance of nature, giving off these pathogens fertile land.”

India’s big challenge now is to address the imbalances created by climate change. Recent studies also point to India’s poor performance in addressing climate concerns. In the 2022 Environmental Performance Index, India ranked last on the list. This raises concerns about the future impact of climate change on the economic and social lives of people across the country.

We need our healthcare system to become more responsive to the diseases associated with climate change. Vaccines should be our first level of protection against disease. The second form of protection comes from awareness. I’m glad more people are talking about it now.

Pradeep Kumar Jha, an assistant lecturer with an MA in Biochemistry, says, “There are social and economic determinants of health. Urbanization and pollution increase health-related risks in cities, but better health infrastructure and improved economic conditions help people adapt better.”

Pradeep Kumar Jha, Assistant Lecturer at Akash Education Services Ltd.
Credit: Ayoshi Shukla

“On the other hand, rural areas in India are not prepared to deal with the negative impacts of climate change. Floods are not only destroying people’s livelihoods but also increasing the spread of infectious diseases. Despite the ease of treatment, rural India lacks care facilities health needed to treat it.”

Commenting on India’s preparedness to deal with the impact of climate change on health, Dr. Kiritka advises, “While COVID-19 remains our priority at the moment, we need our healthcare system to become more responsive to climate change related diseases. It should be Vaccines have our first level of protection against diseases. The second form of protection comes from awareness. I am glad that more people are talking about it now. And government policy is also supportive of the environment.”

One such pro-environmental policy is the National Program on Climate Change and Human Health (NPCCHH) headed by the National Center for Disease Control. In 2008, India also developed the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

Pradeep is optimistic about the latest developments. “There has been an increased focus on climate change,” he says. “It’s great news but we still have a long way to go. Providing health equity can strengthen medical care systems in rural areas. A resilient health system is the best way to respond to the effects of disasters and climate change.”

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